WATCH - Big Match Verdict: Hull FC lose grip on Challenge Cup as Saints eye Wembley
WHEN Jamie Shaul threw a forward pass with the very last play of a thrilling quarter-final, the Hull FC full-back knew his club's hold on the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup was finally over.
Like so many of his colleagues, he collapsed onto the pitch, not just due to the utter disappointment realising they had lost an epic contest but moreso probably just sheer exhaustion.
Trailing 25-22, Hull didn’t even have any right to even be in the contest as they kept the ball alive in those last few seconds desperately seeking the try that would deny Super League leaders St Helens.
Considering they had been shown three yellow cards – they defended for nine minutes with just 11 men towards the end of the first half – and losing two key players to injury, they should have been utterly over-run by the most dominant side of 2018.
But Lee Radford’s side, who have won at Wembley the last two years, love this competition and they simply refused to yield until – as Shaul’s tired final pass demonstrated – they were just left with nothing else to give.
In the end, despite great efforts from the likes of Jamie Shaul, Scott Taylor and fit-again Albert Kelly, they were running on empty, paying the price for those earlier indiscretions, their over-worked defence all the more taxed given the baking conditions.
Furthermore, loose-forward Dean Hadley had limped off inside the opening minute with an ankle injury and captain Danny Houghton departed in the 49th minute following a sickening head injury.
The East Yorkshire club – who had not lost a Challenge Cup tie for three years – had already recovered well from falling 10-0 behind inside the opening 13 minutes. Half-back Kelly, back early from a hamstring injury, showed he was clearly fit with a lovely dummying and stepping run from 15 out to beat Jon Wilkin and Ben Barba and score.
Jake Connor improved and did so again when prop Chris Green ignored the presence of four Saints defenders to bundle his way over in the 22nd minute.
That left them 12-10 ahead but matters turned during a chaotic 60 seconds.
Houghton was sin-binned for an alleged crusher tackle on Danny Richardson, although replays suggested it was only pressure from Connor coming in to complete the tackle that led to the dangerous finish.
Straight from the penalty, there was an altercation after St Helens’ Louie McCarthy-Scarsbrook was tackled by Brad Fash which led to Danny Washbrook – for the second time this season – being yellow-carded for kneeing an opponent as he returned to his feet.
It meant Hull were down to 11 men for nine minutes and Saints, as you would expect, made the extra advantage pay.
Winger Regan Grace grabbed his second try of the afternoon and England centre Mark Percival also exploited the extra space to double his tally for Richardson’s third conversion to make it 22-12 before either FC player returned.
Richardson added a drop-goal just before the half-time hooter but the holders – despite that massive extra effort exerted in the first half – refused to yield and started well in the second period.
They were fortunate when Zeb Taia blew a golden opportunity, spilling over the line after Shaul had just denied Jonny Lomax and their kicking game continued to struggle.
But Taylor got them back in the contest with a typical try, the England prop somehow twisting through and over McCarthy-Scarsbrook, James Roby and Barba to get the ball down between the sticks on 53 minutes, Connor improving.
Trailing just 23-18, it seemed like the visitors were well-poised to make a` push but they almost instantly self-imploded. Young prop Masi Matongo hit Lomax late after the ball and became the third FC player to be sin-binned.
He could have few complaints although Lomax will have; the England player had to briefly go off injured.
Richardson slotted the resulting penalty to give then a crucial seven-point advantage.
Although Hull did not concede a try while down to 12 men this time, their energy levels were further depleted especially as they were now down to just two fit interchanges after Houghton was deemed unable to return.
Still, they somehow kept coming back with winger Hakim Miloudi doing brilliantly to claim Kelly’s crossfield kick to score in the 70th minute and, even though Connor missed the conversion attempt, set up that frantic finish.
Hull tried all sorts but simply ran out of energy at the death, illustrated by Shaul’s final effort.
It was left to Radford to bemoan his side’s kicking display and conceded they badly missed half-back Marc Sneyd.
He said: “One of the areas we got beaten in was the kicking and I thought our kicking game was horrible.
“For all the Marc Sneyd knockers on radio shows and phone ins– eat your words. Marc puts the ball where we need to put the ball. We didn’t kick the ball well at all today.”
St Helens: Barba: Makinson, Morgan, Percival, Grace; Lomax, Richardson; Amor, Roby, Thompson, Peyroux, Taia, Wilkin. Substitutes: Fages, McCarthy-Scarsbrook, Douglas, Knowles.
Hull FC: Shaul; Faraimo, Logan, Tuimavave, Miloudi; Kelly, Connor; Green, Houghton, Taylor, Minichiello, Manu, Hadley. Substitutes: Washbrook, Fash, Paea, Matongo.
Referee: Ben Thaler (Wakefield).